Politicians aren’t known to be thin-skinned. Yet, even the thickest of this amazing breed must have noticed a serious image problem that just got worse this past one week.
In no particular order: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Maya memsaab had a birthday party—her own symbolic “let them eat cake” moment, with diamonds and a helicopter as gifts. Even as a shocked nation watched senior bureaucrats feed behenji her favourite cream cake in a spectacle of sycophancy came the news that one of New Delhi’s most awaited, and needed, expressways (to Gurgaon) was ready to roll but that the aam aadmi (common man) would have to wait.
The reason? No VIP was available to inaugurate this “very important road”. Despite a “people’s inauguration”, the expressway remains shut—it is now to be inaugurated by Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and other significant politicians later this week.
Then there was the absolutely unedifying hullabaloo over the Bharat Ratna. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s putative prime minister, L.K. Advani, suggested that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee deserved the highest civilian honour.
Even as Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi switched to commissar mode and made nasty asides, other party chiefs have swung into the act: Mayawati (birthday girl again) wants one for Kanshi Ram. Naveen Patnaik believes his late father, Biju Patnaik, deserves it. Ram Vilas Paswan says it should go to the late Jagjivan Ram; the Samajwadi Party wants it for Mulayam Singh Yadav and even the comrades made a few bleats for Jyoti Basu before realizing that such bourgeois honours were hardly appropriate for the great leader.
In the resulting rush, it has been decided that the Bharat Ratna will, thank God, go to—nobody.
In Mumbai, film-star-turned-neta Govinda was facing a bit of heat from irate constituents from his Mumbai (North) constituency. Where is the missing MP? Last seen, Govinda was busy shooting for a film called Money Hai to Honey Hai, and slapping gate-crashers at his sets. Has the MP really gone MIA (missing-in-action)? “I (am) working in my own way,” he says. Indeed. The official Lok Sabha website records that he asked his last question back in 2005.
In nearby Goa, just seven months after coming to power, the Congress-led government came to the brink of collapse after rebel MLAs from the Nationalist Congress Party (allies of the Congress) withdrew support. NCP chief Sharad Pawar threatened to crack the anti-defection whip and the rebels have been summoned to New Delhi. The government has been secured, for now.
Speaking to a TV channel on the crisis, Goa’s iconic musician Remo Fernandes declined to call politicians animals. That, he said, would be an insult to animals. In pretty much the same vein, a former editor once told me that it was the duty of every journalist to treat politicians “like a dog treats a lamp-post.” I was young and naïve then, and thought he was going a bit too far.
As the events unfolded, ironically, in the run-up to Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary on 30 January, I’m beginning to wonder if my ex-ed had a point, after all.
But here’s the funny thing: despite the bad aura associated with our politicians, Indians generally have had much to feel good about. There’s a confidence and a sense of pride that comes to us despite our political class. Take three events: the launch of Ratan Tata’s Nano, Anil Ambani’s hugely successful initial public offering (IPO) and India’s historic test cricket win against Australia.
If the Tata Nano is the ultimate aspirational car that has been receiving accolades from all over the world, the Reliance Power IPO, oversubscribed 73 times and the largest subscription for any IPO anywhere in the world, demonstrates a palpable faith in Anil Ambani, the stock market (despite its steep fall last week) and the India story. And our win is another Chak De moment, another reason for everyone from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to feel proud.
We do have a great deal to be proud of, despite and in spite of our politicians (and, yes, there are honourable exceptions but these are really few and far between). Our heroes and role models come from the world of sport, film or business.
Later this week, I leave for the Jaipur Literature Festival—an absolute gem that has literally come out of nowhere to become a major landmark on the world literary calendar with the participation of such major stars this year as Gore Vidal and Ian McEwan. The festival is reported to have mopped up Rs1.35 crore in sponsorship, and—in what can only be a case of divine irony—its chief sponsor is DS Constructions Ltd, the same company that built the yet-to-be-inaugurated Delhi-Gurgaon expressway.
The best thing about the festival? It has no sarkari stamp. There will be no politician to inaugurate it and no boring speeches to listen to.
Namita Bhandare will write every other Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org